Dear KMA Readers,
James and I have been doing this blog for ten years (plus a bit), and one of the things we’ve always said was that if you’re an artist, and you have tunes you’ve created, and you want them heard and reviewed on our site… send them to us! We guarantee we’ll get it heard and written up. We love new-to-us music and we will always welcome it. Sending it to us is a great way for you to get your name and your work in print.
In our decade of blogging, this has only happened a few times. But we take every delivery as a victory, and we always do a write-up, as promised.
Recently, we received contact and a submission from Stoneygate, with an album called Sleepwalker. Below, I’ve not only reviewed this record, but also sent along a few questions, email interview-style, to Stoneygate for answers! Stoneygate has been most gracious and helpful in all points of our contacts, so settle in and get ready for new-to-us music, and a Q&A with brilliant answers, from an exciting artist!
Stoneygate is an indepedent electronic musician and producer based in the Midlands, UK. On the CDBaby page for Sleepwalker, it says:
A relaxing blend of meditative EDM and electronica, some instrumental tracks, some with a female vocal. Occasionally venturing into more upbeat territory. This is the debut album from Stoneygate – and about time too.
Genre: Electronic: Chill out
Release Date: 2016
Recommended If You Like: Dido, Everything But the Girl, Moby
And now, I will attempt to review/tell you a bit about Sleepwalker:
Silver Bird takes us on a dreamy drift, pleasing chord changes and active bass line, tethered by that centering drum line. The vocals are lovely, and all the elements come together perfectly. It’s over too soon. Savannah is an energetic, captivating instrumental. It’s all pretty and then that bass line comes in to give it some heft while the strings swirl over top. Talk about uplifting! This is not slow music, it’s bold and upfront, sure of itself and of where it’s going. Brilliant.
Sunrise adds some 80s pop synth touches to itself, and not to its detriment. Again, there’s so much going on in this track that your ear is pulled to each strong element. Repeat listens are the way to go, to be sure to get it all. But even while all this roiling is going on, there’s a simple single note drone happening, and then the piano begins to chord, adding calm. This is very deftly handled, it’s like two songs at once. Sunset Landscape is a short two minutes, again restless and full of parts, this time with a bit of an eastern feel to it. There are skittering instruments underneath that haunting, beautiful, echoing piano line. There’s an old-timey feel underneath, like from an old movie. I just love this whole thing.
Sleepwalker, for my money, is the single. What a beautiful track. Definitely a Morcheeba vibe here, I love those chords in the background and that trip hop beat. The lyrics really resonated with me, too. Just a brilliant track. Click the song title, there, to hear the track for yourself! Some Days struts on a strong bottom end, and those relentless drums. Again with the perfectly-aimed piano line, and the lyrics! Damn, I really like what she’s saying here. It’s a powerful message about making the most of your time, a lesson we could do well to absorb and live ourselves.
Spiralesque is a haunting, strong instrumental track. I think it’d be perfect as a soundtrack to a movie scene, showing our protagonist working hard to achieve something that others said they could not do… and actually achieving it… and when it ends on the beach, with the water sounds, the goal is accomplished. Stick Of Rock has some truly stunning vocals over (seemingly) simple music. As the song builds, it only adds beauty as it gains in energy and power. And that repeated line “I’ve got an imprint of you running through my DNA…,” timed and placed in the song as it is, is the best love lyric I’ve heard all year.
Sad Samba doesn’t sound all that sad to me. In fact, it’s another upbeat instrumental with a prominent drum beat over synth washes (and even spacey noises, at points), and a dancing right hand line, and a melody line that sounds like a lower horn… a trombone? No matter, I’d call it Stimulating Samba. Stuck In A Rut is a brief 1:56 of electronic repetition while something moves underneath – is it drums, or someone beatboxing? In the background, it sounds like wind, and then vocals take us out as the track folds in on itself…
I am not exceedingly knowledgeable in electronic music, but I’ve heard enough to know what I like, and I love this album. It has this restless energy and a searing beauty over top that works on every level. The vocals are absolutely arresting, and I think we can all expect many great things from Stoneygate in future.
And now, ten brief questions for Stoneygate…
It must be very exciting to see your work released, and on CDBaby, Amazon, etc. Did you find any particular challenges in bringing your work to the world through those systems, as an independent artist?
I think the hardest thing is actually to keep going, and to find the right support and feedback in order to actually finish the project. You lose perspective a bit after working on the same songs for a long while. I’ve found that local musicians have been really encouraging and friendly, even though I’ve only been on the Lincoln music scene for a short time. Several good musician friends from Leicestershire were also very helpful – notably Matt Steady, who listened and gave constructive feedback, even though he was in the middle of getting his own album finished. Using CDBaby is pretty straightforward, and gave the distribution opportunities with Amazon, iTunes and so on. It was quite hard to sort out which service to use though, when I selected CDBaby, because there are a lot of potential choices to weigh up.
Creating an entire album is such a huge project. Were there any hurdles and rewards you felt (even partially) shaped your work on this project?
I discovered after I’d done a large part of the production work that I needed to learn how to mix better, before I could finish the project. That was a major frustration, because if I couldn’t mix the songs well, the album wouldn’t get completed.
I see online that your music is recommended if the listener likes Dido, Everything But The Girl, Moby, and Massive Attack. I do not disagree with any of those. Not just naming other bands I know in this genre who have a female vocalist, I also hear references to Morcheeba, Portishead and the Supreme Beings Of Leisure in your work, particularly in the tracks that have vocals. Are these also influences?
I do own a Morcheeba album and I also love some of the Portishead tracks, they are so moody, although I haven’t got anything of theirs. They have probably both got in under my skin without me realising. I don’t think I know Supreme Beings of Leisure and will be looking them up!
On the subject of influences, do you have others, perhaps not at all in the electronic genre (or maybe in the genre, as well), whom you feel also inform how you approach your work? If so, how so?
I enjoy quite a broad variety of music – anything with a good tune and a story usually goes down well here. I’d say artists like Kate Bush, Elton John and Blondie have had quite a big impact on me, and also the British band Iona (Celtic folk prog rock), who have just announced that they are calling it a day indefinitely. I’ve probably played them for more hours than anyone else, and certainly been to more of their gigs than anyone else – they’ve had a huge influence on me musically, although I’m not sure it is particularly evident in this album’s material. I’ve been quite interested by the minimalist composers like Philip Glass and John Adams, too. Again, I don’t think that will necessarily show up yet in my own work, but I really liked what John Adams had to say about music evolving and changing as it goes along, in quite a gradual way.
All of the songs are so strong, and could work as instrumentals, but the vocals are so beautiful and poignant, each song could also easily support vocals… How do you choose which songs get vocals and which don’t?
I’m not sure it has been a conscious choice as such. It has just depended on what inspiration has materialised! For the songs with words, I often have an idea of a tune that emerges from the structure of a sentence or two and it builds from there. When I put a tune together on its own, I don’t always get lyric ideas, more a sense of a scene that the tune belongs to. So I suppose the answer to the question is usually what the starting point for the tune was – words vs music.
In the song Some Days, you really caught my ear with the lyrics. I love it when artists mention how we should not waste time on petty things like hate and fear, that time is non-refundable and we should not waste it on unnecessary things. Have you always thought this way, or did you have an experience that shifted your thinking?
This song is based directly on Ecclesiastes chapter 3 – the same passage that the 60s song Turn Turn Turn by the Byrds is based on:
A Time for Everything
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I don’t remember quite how I ended up thinking about this passage, but it led to a moment of inspiration and a set of lyrics, which then suggested a tune. My sense of life being too short has definitely grown over the last few years, but the feeling behind the song was more along the lines of I’ve been through a lot of rubbish and now is the time for things to get better.
After hearing the entire album, I hear how the tracks work individually, but I can also clearly hear how it all works as a whole. Can you briefly describe your vision for the project, the point you want to make with it?
I’m not as deliberate as that, although I can see themes that have been emerging in my writing, to do with how people communicate and spend their time. I was just hoping to put something together that was worthwhile, not wanting it to be superficial. If the lyrics make people stop and think that’s great, though.
In listening through this album, on several of the tracks I noticed a real pull between energetic bottom end and drums, and a calm, beautiful upper end in the piano, synths and vocals. Was this a conscious effort in your songwriting, to have that duality (tension, even), or is it just how it came about?
A lot of what I do is very intuitive, so it doesn’t feel planned.
I think this aspect partly comes about because I’m really into what percussion/drums will do for a song and my love for piano and synth sounds as well as a strong melody. The other reason for a tension is probably down to the fact that I try to cram so many ideas – probably too many – into everything, and then I have the challenge to mix it and make it all work properly together.
Is there a strong temptation to keep playing with songs, adding and removing things, right up until the last minute? Do you handle it all in the songwriting process, so that when you get to recording it’s all go, or is it a constantly changing thing right up until the last minute? And even then, how do you know it’s done?
Oh yes, it is really hard to know when you’re finished. I’m not so good at removing things as adding them, which adds challenges to the mixing, because you’re meant to be able to hear the crucial parts of everything that’s in there, otherwise you’re just wasting headroom in the mix. I wasn’t so much adding things right up to the bitter end, that was pretty much all done in the songwriting/recording stage (those are not always 2 separate processes for me), but I was tweaking the mix over a long period and right up to the end, because as soon as you’ve resolved one problem, you hear another one, and I was still learning to mix during this project. It got quite high pressure at the end as I had set a deadline for completion that I needed to stick to. I found that at mixing stage I had to stop and leave the project alone for a while so I could hear it fresh. Your ears can trick you and you start hearing what you think is there rather than what’s actually there. That isn’t really a problem when you mix a song by another artist, as you’ve not already been working on it for ages. It’s easier to be more objective mixing someone else’s work, too, and not get bogged down in perfectionism.
Finally, is there any particular reason why all of the song titles begin with the letter ’s’? 🙂
Haha, I had a feeling that might come up. It started off as an accident – nearly all the songs that I was naming were coming out starting with S as the first letter of the title. There are actually quite a few more songs that I didn’t include on the album that have the S. It became a bit of a private joke to myself that ‘today’s album was brought to you by the letter S and the number 3’ or something like that. There are only one or two of the songs on the album where I developed the title a bit to fit in – Sunset Landscape started off as Landscape, but I realised that I was seeing late afternoon or a sunset in my mental picture, so that worked so it would be consistent.
Huge thanks to Stoneygate for being so gracious with her time, and for answering these questions in such wonderful ways.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Stoneygate Review And Interview Extravaganza. Sleepwalker is an fantastic album, and this was an excellent, insightful Q&A, as well.
We truly hope you’ll check out Stoneygate for yourself at: